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Urmila Chanam is a Social Development Professional in HIV/AIDS, Gender Rights Activist & Journalist. She won the Laadli Media and Advertising Award for Gender Sensitivity in Hyderabad for her article " We don't talk about it at all: The taboo of menstruation in rural Maharashtra, a major deterrent in achieving menstrual hygiene” carried on India Water Portal.
The award came from among 17,000 articles that the jury read for breaking the silence and exploring the myths and taboos on menstruation in India. When she was taking the award she remembered the story of Priyanka, a girls she met in Wardha during Nirmal Bharat Yatra:
"I remember you today Priyanka. One year ago I met you in your school in a village in remote Maharashtra. What you shared with me, I carried 'far and wide' just as I had promised I would. I hope together, you and I, served the purpose to hope for a better world for adolescent girls and women who have not much idea about menstrual hygiene management."
I spoke these words softly to myself while climbing the stairs to the carpeted stage when my name was announced as the winner of the Laadli Media and Advertising Awards for Gender Sensitivity. In the glaring lights, the gifting of the elegant trophy and the spotlight over me, I thought to myself,
"It had always not been like this."
The journey till here began on the dusty roads of rural India. A world and a life that took lengthy descriptions and elaborations about how different it was, for the people who had abundance in urban space.
When I had first sat to occupy the quiet desk in a corner of my home, I had been eager to carry to others the world where millions of adolescent girls and women live in complete darkness about menstruation in my country, wading through their childhood, adolescence, marriage and reproductive life of a mother , without once knowing what menstruation is.
I had been keen to carry forth the backward status of majority of women in my country who thought menstruation was 'dirty', 'unworthy of discussion', 'not entitled to family resources', ' deserving of seclusion from family and society' and a 'justified reason for not being allowed to touch food or utensils during 'those days of the month'.
Last year I travelled 60 days on road to cover major states and regions in India that face problems of water, sanitation and ignorance on menstrual hygiene management. The organizer of such a large touring intervention was Wash United, Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC), Arghyam, Water AID among other international donors and NGOs.
In this journey a country-wide survey was done at every state and region we stopped to assess the status of water, sanitation and menstrual hygiene management among adolescent girls and women. Once the survey was wrapped up, trainings, informal workshops and focussed group discussions were used to disseminate accurate information on hygiene and menstruation.
It was the most enriching experience of my life to be meeting real people in their real environments which explained their situation and interact with so many women at the same time.
I met Priyanka in one such travel to the state of Maharashtra. I was in her school with another lady facilitator, talking to all the adolescent girls in the school, conducting a survey on our tablets and then holding a focused group discussion on menstruation.
About 'Laadli', the Girl Child Campaign:
Laadli is a girl child campaign from Population First against sex selection and the falling sex ratio in India. In a country where there are reported to be less than 800 girls for every 1000 boys in 16 districts, this is an alarming truth about the way the Indian society is obsessed with the 'boy child'.
The Laadli Media and Advertising Awards was instituted to propagate a genre of media reporting that gives attention to issues of the gender in the right perspective, allowing respect and dignity to the woman.
When the award came for my work on taboos on menstruation in India and the state of reproductive health owing to these taboos and malpractices, I was convinced it was meant to strengthen my campaign on menstrual hygiene management. I take this moment in my life as an encouragement to keep going till a day comes when there is no taboo around any aspect of a woman's reproductive health.
A space when women can freely tell their daughters about menstruation, there is no restriction on going and buying sanitary pads from shops or cotton cloth for absorbing the fluid and no girl is stopped from going to the kitchen or the temple while she is menstruating.A day when there is no event in their lives which stops them from getting an education-not menstruation at least!!
I accept this award on behalf of all those girls and women who shared an aspect of their lives and helped me to carry the torch forward.